THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF NEGRONI
Updated: May 3
To some people, the Negroni seems like an overly-sophisticated drink reserved for the pretentious cocktail fanatics or the experienced bartender. Until recently, this was undoubtedly the case. But nearly overnight, it’s become a universal crowd pleaser.
Like nearly all classic cocktails, the exact history of this landmark drink is not certain. Nonetheless, the most widespread tale of the Negroni’s origins recalls Count Negroni in Florence in 1919 ordering his bartender to strengthen his regular tipple, The Americano (Campari and Sweet Vermouth topped with soda garnished with lemon). The soda was swapped out for gin, and the lemon was replaced by an orange to signify the birth of a new creation.
In recent years, the century-old Italian aperitif has been flying up the charts in Britain’s list of favourites. It is currently the world’s 5th most popular cocktail according to Difford's Guide after a meteoric rise - and it's clear why.
The playful aromas of the Negroni represent an entirely different experience to all other mass-consumed cocktails. As a vibrant aperitif, the rich ruby red offered by the Campari is a glaring signpost of a bountiful evening to come. I can say with certainty that some of the best moments of my life have come with a Negroni in hand.
Nonetheless, the perception that this drink is one for stuffed shirts in bars and clubs is still one that sticks. The reality is that the Negroni is one of the most exciting, vivacious cocktails in the world, which requires by far the least effort to make.
All you need is the right bottles on your bar; having a bottle of Campari in your house at all times is crucial.
Whether you’re making straight in the glass, or first stirring in a mixing glass, this drink is sensationally easy to make. Simply measure out 25ml of Campari, 25ml of Sweet Vermouth, and 25ml of Gin. Pour over ice and stir in the glass for 15-20 seconds.
The stirring is essentially adding a fourth ingredient - water - whilst cooling the drink. This keeps the texture of the spirits and allows you to control how much dilution you want.
Possibly the hardest cocktail to get wrong, right? Unless you’re Stanley Tucci. Watching that man shake a Negroni was really quite painful. Don’t be like Stanley Tucci.
To complete the drink, produce an orange zest either by using a peeler or a small serrated knife. Gently pinch the zest lengthways to spray the citrus oils from the orange skin over the rim of the drink. The light refreshing citrus aromas resting on the top of the drink will lift the drink’s overall flavour.
Remember that Negronis are self-diluting whilst the ice melts in the drink. So if your drink is quite stiff at first, it’s going to get less heavy as you drink it.
Now you know how to make the classic, and hopefully, after a few homemade pre-dinner Negronis, you will discover how important it is to always be ready to make one.
Whilst the original is an undisputed champion, there are some formidable timeless variations which play to different interests.
Tag teams the Gin for a Tequila (in my experience, if you can get your hands on a Mezcal this works even better)
(Or "mistake" in Italian) - replaces the Gin with sparkling wine for a bubbly Negroni
Offers a darker, richer version of the Negroni by mixing Campari & Sweet Vermouth with Bourbon
Or White Negroni - my personal weakness. Keeps the fundamental aperitivo elements of being dry and slightly bitter, but replaces some of the more offensive elements with something more delicate. Lillet makes a great sub for the sweet vermouth, and Suze or Italicus do well to fill the shoes of Campari.
Bartenders across the world have taken advantage of the current Negroni craze to explore new and exciting ways to mix it up. Some simple variations take the Campari out for Aperol, to bring down the bitterness levels, or stir in grapefruit juice to include more citrus. More complex iterations have experimented with flavoured Vermouths, Amaros, Coffee, Chocolate and tea. Serving Negronis neat in small coupe glasses has also become extremely fashionable in the modern cocktail scene.
For those of you just expanding your home bar, or interested in knowing more about the cocktail world, the Negroni is the perfect place to start. Adaptable for nearly any situation, reliably stimulating and remarkably easy to make.
Cheers to that!
(Co-Founder, Creative Juices Bartending)